Archive for the 'urbanscape and environment' Category

Preliminary findings about flooded tunnel raise more questions

Two weeks after the North-South Line of Singapore’s metro system was severely disrupted because of flooding in a tunnel, there are still calls on social media for Desmond Kuek, the CEO of SMRT Corporation which operates the line, to resign or be sacked. Public anger intensified after SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming said at the 16 October 2017 press conference that the SMRT maintenance team will have their bonuses cut for failing to maintain the flood-prevention system. The public feeling was that Kuek himself should shoulder the blame and not point fingers at his staff, especially as he has been CEO for five years already.

Indeed, there is a growing perception that an entire cadre of military generals inserted to run various parts of public administration enjoy impunity whatever the failures on their watch. Kuek was a lieutenant general before. It is time for a proper example to be set. Continue reading ‘Preliminary findings about flooded tunnel raise more questions’

Tunnel floods and the erosion of performance legitimacy

In traditional Chinese political thinking, emperors have absolute powers, subject only to the will of gods. The political duty of subjects is to serve and to obey. The Mandate of Heaven, however, can be withdrawn at any time. Flood, famine, earthquake and pestilence are read as signs that Heaven is displeased with the regime and has revoked the emperor’s mandate.

As recently as 1976, millions of people in China had reason to believe that this divine signalling was in operation. On 28 July 1976, a massive earthquake struck the city of Tangshan, killing over 240,000 people, though nobody really knows what the actual figure was. Six weeks later, Mao Zedong, supreme ruler for 27 years, died. Continue reading ‘Tunnel floods and the erosion of performance legitimacy’

Coming soon: 100,000 more people and transport madness in Jurong Lake District

“Any feedback, sir?” asked an eager young man as I was leaving the exhibition.

“Too many questions, too little time,” I said. I would be late if I didn’t hurry up the escalator to the platforms of Jurong East Station, where goodness knows what crush of humanity awaited me. It was too risky to dwell and engage with him.

The exhibition was titled “Jurong Lake District” or something like that. It had a scale carpentry model of the area, and a series of posters mounted on wallboards. Many of the posters (and glib captions) can be viewed at this website: www.jld.sg. Basically, it’s about a massive development of the area into a “second CBD” (central business district). The problem with the exhibition and website was that everything was made to look like a glossy sales brochure — you know, the kind you get when an eager young man tries to sell you a condo apartment — rather than anything detailed and informative enough for citizens to give feedback on. Continue reading ‘Coming soon: 100,000 more people and transport madness in Jurong Lake District’

Zika erupts in Singapore: how we made it worse than it might otherwise have been

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‘Cover up!’ screamed the immediate reaction I noticed on social media. The Health ministry had just announced that they have found 41 cases of Zika infection, barely 24 hours after they said that there was one confirmed case (on Saturday 27 August 2016). How can the number jump so fast without them knowing about these other cases earlier — was the implication behind the shouting headlines. They must be hiding facts from the public! Continue reading ‘Zika erupts in Singapore: how we made it worse than it might otherwise have been’

Hushed tracks

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This photo was taken on 22 March 2016. I didn’t know it then but it was when two families lost their beloved sons. A train ran into two trainee technicians as they were on a track. It must have been a moment of unfathomable grief. The enquiry that followed concluded that it was mostly human error. Specifically, negligence in observing safety rules on the part of the seniors in the work crew was the chief cause of the tragedy. See a brief statement from SMRT here. Continue reading ‘Hushed tracks’

Little red dot must learn to capture infrared

For an island almost smack on the equator, why are solar panels so hard to spot in Singapore? This question struck me as I endured yet another scorching day.

Plenty of intense sunlight, but where are the solar panels?

Plenty of intense sunlight, but where are the solar panels?

March to May are usually the hottest months of the year with temperatures frequently hitting 34 degrees Celsius, sometimes reaching 35 or 36. But a recent report in Today newspaper indicates that the future may be worse. Continue reading ‘Little red dot must learn to capture infrared’

Tesla: new technologies need new ways of thinking

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My mind wanders a lot. There have been idle moments when, presented with a slice of birthday cake on a plastic or paper plate, I have wondered about the environmental-friendliness of the plate. Reading about Joe Nguyen’s travails in getting his Tesla model S licensed in Singapore, I started to wonder about cake on disposable plate again.  Continue reading ‘Tesla: new technologies need new ways of thinking’

Ourselves through Istanbul

Galata Bridge

Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn

This spot on planet Earth has been inhabited for well over two thousand years — as Byzantium, Constantinople, then Istanbul — and was a great cosmopolitan capital city for 1,500 of those. Merchants and scholars from all over the then-known world flocked to it.

I can’t say, however, that it is cosmopolitan any more, certainly not by the standards of London, New York, Paris or Sydney today. Or even Singapore. Istanbul has a cultural homogeneity that our more nostalgic romantics might wish we had. Continue reading ‘Ourselves through Istanbul’

Flats are not houses, think hospital beds instead

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Where we go wrong is in our use of words. I have always cringed when Singaporeans use the word “house” to mean their flat. I may be old-fashioned in this respect, but I would only use the word “house” when I refer to a dwelling that sits directly on a plot of land; I would not use it for a pigeon coop in the sky. If one looks at international usage, that’s probably the norm.

The wrong choice of words affects how we think of something. Words come with associations and values. I’d argue that our careless choice of words warp how we think of Housing and Development Board flats — public housing in which 85% of Singaporeans live. Continue reading ‘Flats are not houses, think hospital beds instead’

From words to deeds, attention to detail matters

I see bad English all over Singapore, but because I don’t want to sound like a language Nazi, I hold myself back, seldom writing about it. On the other hand, I don’t think I need to be apologetic about it. Getting language right takes the same attitude — attention to detail — that stands a person in good stead. More generally, a culture or economy that devalues the striving for excellence shortchanges itself. I sometimes think a widespread neglect of language quality in Singapore reflects a neglect of perfectionism, which shows up in a myriad ways from train breakdowns and bus delays to stark gaps in the social safety net. Continue reading ‘From words to deeds, attention to detail matters’